Sun(Fun)day Post: Two Funny Podcasts to Check Out

This post is a bit later than usual on a Sunday evening. I went for my early evening constitutional (aka walk) and then it was dinnertime. A primary New Year’s resolution of mine was to walk every day. Not to brag or anything, but since I got my Fitbit for Christmas, I’ve walked at least 10,000 steps every day (that’s 71 days – but who’s counting?)

Two things have helped me to do this – a rather warm and dry winter and great, free audio books and podcasts to listen to on my Android smartphone. As the weather warms and the sun sets later (Daylight Savings Time begins next Sunday), perhaps you’d like to walk or exercise outside more frequently?

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The first place to check for audio books is OverDrive. Many libraries have contracted with this ever-growing ebook and audio book provider to be the conduit for content checked out via a typical library card. Both of our local library branches provide materials through this site – albeit with slightly different collections. The Android app for it works pretty well and it gives the option of either streaming or downloading the content via WiFi. I do find some aspects of its functionality to not be completely intuitive, so you might have to play around with it a bit.

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Another good source for free audio books is LibriVox. The collection here is mainly classic works that are in the public domain. So, if you’re seeking to listen to works that you skimmed in high school, but as an adult you’re now curious about, this is your source.

I started my walking routine with audio books, but now I listen almost exclusively to podcasts. In case you’ve not been paying attention, there’s a remarkable renaissance happening in the audio programming world. I find this ironic. We’re now in such a visually-oriented streaming world as television supplanted the radio more than sixty years ago. Yet, those same devices you can use to watch Netflix, can also be used to stream a ridiculous amount of audio content as well. And on the supply side of the equation, the equipment needed to create a podcast is so minimal that anyone with a computer and a $20 plug-in-mic can become a podcaster. Sure, there’s a lot of amateurs out there, but a growing number of podcasters are gaining wide notoriety and significant earnings. A good example is Mark Maron’s WTF Podcast and his interview with President Obama last June.

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To stream or download a podcast, you’ll need an app for that. Stitcher and Soundcloud are two popular, free ones that I’ve used on my Android phone. I don’t particularly like either of these since a paid app I now use is so much better – Pocket Casts

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The visual design of Pocket Casts is far superior to any other podcasting app that I’ve used. More importantly, it is extremely easy to download via WiFi and then stream on-the-go. The user interface is highly intuitive. So, whether you’re brand new to listening to podcasts or a veteran, pay the $3.99 for this great app and you won’t regret it.

So, how do you find good podcasts?  Before I tell you about the aforementioned two favorites of mine, let me give you two sites to visit to find virtually any type of podcast you can imagine.

A pretty amazing one, which I stumbled across just last night is Podcast Chart (pictured above). A glance at the (partial) sidebar listing categories gives just a taste of the range of possibilities.

So, you found some interesting sounding podcasts and you’re surprised to discover that the number of episodes in the various archives is staggering. How can you find a particularly good episode? This is where NPR’s recommendation site (with weekly email) Earbud.fm comes in.

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Incidentally, these two sites will allow you to podcast directly through their interface. While this might be convenient, I still prefer finding them in Pocket Casts and listening there.

OK, time for a quick mention of two podcasts I’ve been enjoying lately. The first is silly, clever, sometimes bawdy, and always funny – Hello From the Magic Tavern

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You can read the premise in the screen shot above or you’ll hear it repeated at the top of each episode. I’m just enough of a Narnia fan/geek that I really appreciate the humor in this podcast as they explore and explode the many “fantasy story” tropes. The language and humor is mostly PG-13 (at least in the dozen or so early episodes I’ve heard thus far).

The second one, is in the wide “infotainment” category – No Such Thing as a Fish

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This is just one branch of a large network dedicated to information – mostly of the trivial kind. In this podcast four of their British and Scottish researchers/comedians share interesting facts they’ve recently discovered. Not only do I learn from their conversations, but I bust up at both the jokes and the connections they make.

I’ve been listening to other podcasts as well and I’ll likely devote another post to recommendations sometime. At this time, I need to do the dishes – with my wireless Bluetooth headphones (I use and recommend these, purchased via Tanga) and an interesting and funny podcast in my ears.

 

 

250th Post! Visual Beauty for Your Device

I missed getting a Sun(Fun)day post out yesterday. Turns out that there are only so many hours in the day and yesterday they passed by way too quickly.

So, it’s Monday, sunny here in Ohio, we’re on the 250th post at this blog and it’s a good day for celebrating the miracle that is our eyes!

If you’re like me, you change your device’s wallpaper or background image frequently. I like to enjoy that moment of beauty before I get to whatever app or task I’m seeking.

So, for your viewing pleasure here’s a few of my favorite sites for downloading beautiful images and a recent example of each.

Perhaps you’ve already discovered the Bing Wallpaper Gallery. As a search engine, Microsoft’s Bing takes a lot of flack. But as a source for daily, seasonally themed, blow-your-mind images it’s the best. It also has a highly searchable archive to find any type of image perfectly sized to fit your desktop/homescreen:

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So after I stop at Bing’s site, I go over to my next favorite site for daily images as well as great, daily prayer resources. Hosted my the Jesuits of the Midwest Province, the location of the site is Jesuitprayer.org. Each day they offer a gripping image paired with a quote related to the liturgical reading and related reflection for the day. There’s also an iOS app available. The images aren’t always in the highest definition, so sometimes they are a bit fuzzy on my iPad lock screen. Still, the reflections included are worth pausing on for a moment before unlocking and moving forward.

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The last site is one that I just discovered the other day. I’ve known about the Three Minute Retreat site and app for a while. I get their daily email and for the first time I looked closely at the links within it. Not only is there one to Loyola PressLenten Resources, but there’s also a link to where you can download seasonal images which include a quote from the week’s scripture and the month’s calendar. The stunning one on my iPad lock screen today is above while this week’s is here:

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One really good thing about the file (above) from Loyola is that it fits perfectly onto the iPad screen while the Three Minute Retreat one needs to be reduced.

As a bonus, if you’re looking for lock screen images and home screen organization on your Android device, may I recommend what I use – Picturesque and Aviate respectively.

An App to Know – Curiosity.com

After hearing the announcement/ad for Curiosity.com numerous times on NPR, I finally got around to checking it out and down loading the iOS app.

I’m not going to say much about it here, because I emphatically encourage you to click the link above and check it out yourself.

As a passionate learner (which hopefully every teacher is), I like the set of five interesting links it gives me every day. An example from the last few days is above. And here’s a few more:

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When you click on the image, it takes you here:

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Here’s one more pair of examples:

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What are you waiting for? Visit Curiosity.com and get learning!

 

Stuff You Should Know: An App Allowing Millions of Teens to Post Anonymously

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t use the “Stuff You Should Know” feature lightly.

I use it for this link because it’s a pretty dramatic article about an app which sounds quite problematic.

The feature article, published the other day by the Washington Post, details this app – The After School App – which offers a location where students from more than 22,000 U.S. high schools are posting all kinds of things – all anonymously. The creators of the app are quoted in the article:

 Cory Levy, 24, one of the app’s founders, said After School gives teens a chance to “express themselves without worrying about any backlash or any repercussions.” He said the app is a new way for teens to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions anonymously and to more directly address issues such as depression, how to come out as gay to one’s parents or how to navigate the daily challenges of teen life.

Levy said the product creates a much-needed alternative to Facebook and Instagram, where teens have grown up carefully curating digital identities that might not reflect their true struggles and anxieties. After School allows them to be themselves without worrying so much about what other people will think, he said.

Not surprisingly the forum has morphed into a place where cyber-bulling, suicidal pleas, and threats of violence have been posted. While these negative and even dangerous exchanges are surely done via other, conventional social media, the issue with this platform – The After School app – is that it is difficult, if not impossible for non-student adults to gain access:

After School limits its audience to teens by requiring users to verify that they attend high school through their Facebook pages and by creating restricted message boards for each high school campus. Parents and others who want to access the app would have to lie to do so, saying on Facebook that they attend the high school. Even then, parents could be stopped by an algorithm that aims to block people from posing as high school students.

Therein lies my biggest concern about this app – parents and school officials are obstructed from seeing not only what individuals are saying, but whether a school or district has active (and perhaps negative or dangerous) activity. Again, there’s many other sites where a student can complain about teachers or others at their school. But with these, there’s a transparency which permits observation and monitoring by adults. With After School, this appears to be deliberately blocked.

There’s more to this article of value and importance, so I urge you to make it a “long read” this weekend.

 

Apps You Should Know: Ten Ambient Sound-Makers and Other Meditation Aids

Readers of this blog will recall that I am a passionate proponent for teaching mindfulness and meditation to students. I’ve blogged about it here a number of times. And I have many more links describing the benefits of it as well as how to teach it. Someday, I plan to post these too.

For now, I’d like to show and tell about a number of iOS apps which can be effectively used to support meditative practices in you or your students. While I provide links to more info about each (as available), you’ll need to go to the App Store to search for and download them yourself.

Even though I use an Android smartphone, I have the apps featured here on my iPad only and not my phone. Therefore, I cannot speak to whether there are corresponding Android apps for any of these.

I’ve selected apps which are easy and effective to use, free of charge, and have either zero or minimal/unobtrusive opportunities for “In-App Purchases” (NOTE: This is accurate as what I’ve seen in the apps and also only at the time of publishing this). I hope you enjoy exploring these apps too:

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Peace – Ambient Sounds   – Free and without In-App Purchases

This is a pretty bare-bones app with only a handful of sounds. As it is free, clear of ads and w/o in-app purchases, it’s a good, basic, “starter app” to produce background sounds for meditation.

 

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WO.Audio (Red icon version) – Free and without In-App Purchases. NOTE: Search iTunes App Store with the “iPhone only” option selected.

For a free app, this one is surprisingly robust. It has both sounds and music along with options for users to create their own combinations which can be saved to the app.

 

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AmbiScience 300 Lite – Free and without In-App Purchases.

The free version of this is pretty slim on options as it functions mostly as an enticement to download their fuller versions. Yet, this app is one of the few I’ve found which also has the option to blend binaural sound waves into the mix of music and ambient sounds.

 

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White Noise Market – Free and without In-App Purchases

I’ve not used this app as much as some of the others, so I cannot speak to the depth of its functionality. That being said, at first glance it clearly has a range of sounds and functions which surpass many of the other free apps on this list. And it has this interesting map of the sources of the sounds offered by the app:

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Naturely, aka Nature Clockstand – Free without In-App Purchases.

Offering a range of sounds, an attractive image representing each sound, and a built-in timer, this app is another one with a high level of usability. I like the natural images which correlate to the audio as sometimes I’ll meditate with my eyes open and gaze at art or an image.

 

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Stop, Breathe and Think – Free with minimal, unobtrusive In-App Purchases

We’re now into a slightly different category of apps. Many of the remaining ones include audio, guided meditations, timers, record keeping of time/date meditating, and other features geared especially for novices to meditative practice. This app has a friendly, light-hearted interface. The user may “check-in” by answering a few questions and then receive a guided meditation tailored to their current need. Or, as this shot shows, the user can bypass the questions and simply select a style and length of meditation:

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Breathe2Relax – Free, no In-App Purchases

This app, while not strictly geared towards mindful meditation is designed with relaxation in mind. Designed with scientific research, this app is better to experience than to describe. So, if the screen shots above interest you, download the free app and try it out. If breathing is important to you, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in it.

 

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Smiling Mind – Free without In-App Purchases

Not only does this app have the best name of the bunch, but it includes a number of other unique features. While the mediation counter and resulting badges are similar to what is found on “Stop, Breathe and Think,” Smiling Mind is the only app I’ve found with meditations specifically geared to different age levels (see the 2nd shot above). Within each older age group is a “course list” of downloadable, guided meditations designed to teach and encourage a meditative practice. It also includes a “social media” function so your friends can observe and encourage your meditation.

And the voices are Aussies, reminiscent of Andy Puddicombe, creator and founder of Headspace.

 

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Mediation Timer Free for iPad – No In-App Purchases, ad supported

This simple, yet elegant app does one thing well. Although it doesn’t offer guided mediations or ambient sounds, it’s an excellent free timer. I use it every day to measure my 10 minutes of mindfulness. The free version is ad supported and has a couple fewer minor features than the inexpensive full version (which I purchased). I like how the user can set the time as well as sounds to mark intervals within the meditation. I use a deep chime sound for each 2:30 and then a specific bell at the end of the full 10 minutes. The app keeps track of my time and provides a number of key data points upon request. And I particularly like the option to easily post my meditation time on Twitter or facebook.

 

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Calm in the Storm (Stress Management) – Free, without In-App Purchases

This app is also different then the others listed here as it is designed specifically for people who suffer from high levels of stress and/or anxiety disorders. As you’ll see in the third shot above, there are guided meditations and relaxations within this app. These are set within the context of anxiety management and development of a plan to address anxiety and stress as they arise. For some, this app may literally function as a life-saver.

Do you have experience with any of these apps?

What additional apps have you used for ambient sounds and/or meditation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An App to Know: 365 Days to Mercy App

Just a quick post to share an interesting, free app I discovered this evening. The good people at the venerable Our Sunday Visitor present the 365 Days to Mercy app. It’s available for both iOS and Android. If you have an iPad and you search the App Store for it, you’ll need to search for “iPod Only” to see it and download it.

I’m excited what will hopefully be a transformative Jubilee Year of Mercy. This app looks like a good way to celebrate it.

And, you’ll note that I’ve added a count-down timer to the left column so we can see how many days until the Jubilee begins!

A Website to Know: Google URL Shortener

A little site with a big purpose, the Google URL Shortener is A Website to Know.

Copy a long, cumbersome URL from a Drive file, Google Photo, or YouTube Video that you want to share, paste it in the box for the URL Shortener, verify you’re not a robot, and then copy and use a briefly friendly URL to share with others.

A little site goes a long way!